New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the central government’s revenues hard, and Union Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs Minister Nitin Gadkari says investing in the infrastructure sector is the only way to increase liquidity in the market.
In a digital Off the Cuff conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta Monday, Gadkari said he is planning to start work worth Rs 15 lakh crore in the highways sector in the next two years.
No dearth of funds for highways
Gadkari said there is no dearth of funds for highways, and that work has resumed after the nationwide lockdown on almost 70 per cent of the projects under the National Highway Authority of India.
“About 65-70 per cent of traffic has returned on the national highways. We will earn Rs 40,000 crore from toll fees by the end of this year. In five years, it will be Rs 5 lakh crore. We are in talks with banks, pension and insurance funds and other foreign investors,” the minister said.
Gadkari added that the budgetary allocation for the sector is Rs 1 lakh crore. “I will also leverage the completed projects by monetising them. I have already monetised three projects. I am trying to rope in pension funds, insurance funds and foreign investment to the sector,” he said.
The minister added that that there are 480 projects which, after including land acquisition cost, are economically viable. “The growth in the road sector will double as compared to the last five years,” he said.
Gadkari said land acquisition had been completed for the proposed Delhi-Mumbai expressway, and the project is on track.
“It will be open for use within three years from now, drastically reducing travel time between the two cities. One will be able to reach Mumbai from Delhi in 12 hours,” he said.
The minister also said the Border Roads Organisation will within six months complete the highway through Uttarakhand for the holy site of Kailash-Mansarovar in China.
“The BRO, which is executing it, has completed the road cutting work and the project will be completed in the next six months,” Gadkari said.
Once ready, the road will make the arduous 25-day journey, which includes trekking at high altitudes, much smoother for pilgrims.
MSME package will come soon
Gadkari, also the minister for micro, small and medium enterprises, accepted that the sector is facing problems, and said the government will soon announce a package.
“We have made some decisions. And I can tell you that to help those engaged in the MSME sector, the Centre will soon come out with a package,” Gadkari said.
“We have done our work and sent our recommendations to the finance ministry. Discussions are happening between the prime minister and the finance minister. I am hopeful that a decision will be taken soon,” he continued.
“The pandemic only aggravated (the sector’s problems). The biggest problem has been a delay in payments impacting their cash flows.”
The minister added that if a majority of people in India have to be protected, jobs in the MSME sector will have to be saved.
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